Seeing your child off to college for the first time can bring mixed emotions. On one hand, you have the empty bedroom down the hall, which perhaps feels emptier than ever. On the other hand, you—like more and more parents of college kids—might begin to discover the positive changes that having a so-called “empty nest” can bring.
Many find pleasure over the way their child has grown up and matured, ready to take on the world. Although my own children are young, I enjoy meeting high school seniors at the library where I work, asking them about their plans, their dreams. It’s an exciting time, and parents can enjoy that special time again through their children.
There is also opportunity for a deepening friendship with your child as you enter a new type of relationship. My mother told me that while she enjoyed having young children, she especially treasured the relationships she had with her children after they had grown up. She enjoyed the friendships and the peer-to-peer talk instead of the day-to-day rigors of child rearing. She even enjoyed getting to know my adult friends, hearing about our most recent night out or giving relationship advice to my girlfriends.
Other benefits of having fewer, if any, children to care for every day include an opportunity for couples to focus on each other more. In fact, couples may find they rediscover each other! Without little ones to care for, my parents began having lunch together every day; either she would meet him at the office or he would come home.
There is also time to travel and do activities that you have put aside because of your children. My father traveled frequently for his job and, after my brothers and I were out of the house, my mother starting going with him. They loved Carmel, California and Las Vegas. When we expressed surprise over Mom’s newfound love of travel, she told us, “The only reason I didn’t go before was because somebody had to stay with you guys!”
There is also the chance to explore a new hobby or get involved with a cause. If you’ve always want to learn how to paint with watercolors, now is the time. If you’ve always enjoyed dancing, take a dance class. Better yet, get your husband to put on his dance shoes and take a couples class—swing, tango, or waltz your way to better health and a better relationship!
Which brings up another point: get out and get moving. Both are good for the soul, and you never know what other benefits might come along with it. My mother started taking long walks around the neighborhood. She passed the same woman every day and eventually they stopped and talked to each other. My mother wasn’t the outgoing type, but this woman was; soon they were shopping, having lunch, and attending performances of local community theater groups together.
Even though there are opportunities to feel positive about your empty nest, you may still feel some sadness and grief over the change. It’s natural. After all, there is still that empty bedroom down the hall. And there will be some worry about your child: hoping they keep themselves safe, that they make good decisions, and that they study and do well in school.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through these challenging times alone. Remember my mother’s walking buddy? Reach out to other empty-nesters. Talk to other parents of college-bound children. There are many support groups online.
If you cannot shake your feelings of sadness or you find it hard to get motivated and excited about your own life despite the empty nest, it may be time to seek professional help. There are many therapists who have experience with these issues.
Like any other transition in life, having an empty nest has its challenges and rewards. Focus on the joys and opportunities your new status brings, but don’t be afraid to seek help either.